Parent-teacher conferences are coming up next week. As I prepared, I started thinking about how stressful those days are. They are so much longer than normal days. In my school district, we have the students for half of the day. Then, conferences are before and after the student day. My conference days go from 7:50 am until 5:20 pm both days. The only good thing is that Thanksgiving break starts the very next day.
Even though parent-teacher conferences are easier now than when I started teaching, there are still always worries in the back of my mind.
- What if a parent doesn’t show up?
- What is a someone is late and throws off my whole schedule?
- Is a parent angry about something that I don’t know about?
Most of these things are out of my control. However, I try to do everything possible to make the conference days go as smoothly as possible. Here are my best tips.
Top 10 Tips for Parent-Teacher Conferences
#1 – Make it as easy as possible to schedule a conference.
Scheduling conferences can be one of the most stressful parts of the whole process. In the past, my school sent home a paper to families where they requested a specific day. Then, the teachers met to arrange sibling conferences so they were back-to-back. Next, we sent another paper home telling the parents the times. Some parents inevitably sent that paper back saying they couldn’t make it. Some parents never sent any of the papers back.
Scheduling conferences took forever!
This year, we tried a different process. We used SignUpGenius to schedule conferences. Each teacher created a schedule of times she was willing to have conferences. The office sent the schedules out to all of the parents. This way, the parents were responsible for booking back-to-back slots for siblings. It made the whole process so much easier.
The process still wasn’t perfect. I still had to hunt a few parents down who didn’t check their email, and I ended up sending three papers home to parents who didn’t schedule online. However, my time scheduling conferences was cut down by half.
#2 – Send a reminder the day before the conference.
After all the effort you put into scheduling conferences, you want the parents to show up. Be sure to send a reminder home with the students the day before the conference. I write a note in each child’s assignment book with the time of the parent-teacher conference. My students’ parents sign that book each night, so they’ll definitely see the reminder.
#3 – Invite any specialists who work with the child to the conference.
For children who work with reading specialists, math resource teachers, ESL teachers, or gifted support, invite those teachers to the conference. They probably have extra data to share with parents. Plus, if the parents have specific questions about the child’s progress in that area, the specialist will be there to help answer them.
#4 – Try to stay on time.
This is one of my biggest struggles with parent-teacher conferences. I start talking to a parent, and I lose track of time. Our conferences are set up in 20-minute intervals. If you fall behind, it’s really hard to get caught up again.
Here are a few ways I’ve found to avoid going over the 20 minutes.
- Share the most important information first. If you don’t get to the third example of the child’s writing, it’s not a big deal.
- Make sure you have at least 5 minutes at the end of the conference for questions or concerns. If you talk for the whole 20 minutes, parents won’t have a chance to ask their questions.
- If the parents have lots of concerns and are going past the 20 minutes, offer to meet with them at another time to continue the conversation.
- After about 3 conferences leave an opening. This way, if one runs over it only affects 2 others at most. It won’t throw off your whole day. This has been one challenge with the online sign-ups, though. With parents signing up themselves, I have 5 conferences back-to-back one day. I’m just praying they are all on time.
Don’t forget to give yourself a lunch time and a supper break. There’s nothing worse than having your stomach rumbling through an entire conference.
#5 – Make parents who are waiting comfortable.
You can do everything in your power to stay on schedule, but things happen, and you are going to have parents waiting outside your classroom. Do your best to make that waiting time pleasant.
Here are a few suggestions of ways to do that.
- Provide chairs outside your classroom.
- Display student work in the hallway.
- Provide paper and pens so parents can write notes to their children.
- Create a slideshow of pictures from the year and play it on a computer in the hallway.
#6 – Start with something positive
Think of a strength for each of your students and begin the conference with it. If a student is a strong math student, I will begin with the math part of the report card. If the student is a strong reader, I will start with that. Parents will be far more willing to hear suggestions and things to work on after you share something positive.
I also like to end the conference on a positive note. I usually look toward the future with something like, “I can’t wait until we learn about the Titanic. Billy loves reading historical fiction, so I think he’s really going to enjoy that unit.”
#7 – Show examples of student work.
If you are going over the report card at your conference, be sure to show examples of student work that helped you assign the grades or numbers. We switched to standards-based grading a few years ago, and parents are still not sure of the difference between a 2 and a 3. I always show them the reading and math assessments I use to determine the numbers.
Learn more about standards-based grading.
#8 – Provide parents with ways to help their child at home.
One question you will inevitably get at your parent-teacher conferences is ways for parents to help their children at home. I always send home a paper with suggestions for ways parents can help their children in reading and math.
Download the information sheet I give parents at the bottom of this post. You will be able to edit it after you make a copy.
#9 – If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it.
Some parents come to conferences with a whole list of questions. Do your best to answer them. However, if they ask something you don’t know, admit it. Tell them you’re not sure, but that you’ll look into it for them. Just be sure to email or call them when you find the answer.
#10 – Have someone sit in on a difficult conference.
If there’s a particular conference that you’re dreading, ask someone else to come to it. The principal or guidance counselor should be available on conference days. Having another person in the room will make you feel better, and it’s another person to help address the parents’ questions and concerns.
What Do You Think?
What other tips do you have successful parent-teacher conferences?
Let me know in the comments below.
Download a free parent handout explaining how to help children with reading and math.